The Rules for Tasting and Enjoying Liquor

Adults drink fine spirits to enjoy a sensory experience and to share that experience with friends. The rules for tasting and enjoying liquor will help you learn to appreciate quality spirits.

Sip, Don’t Slam

Tastings come in sips, not slurps. Drinking like the adult you are requires self-regulation. It shouldn’t be possible to become inebriated at a tasting because, at a proper tasting, you take and appreciate a small sip, and then you spit it out.

Steps for tasting fine spirits are slightly different than those for tasting wine. Don’t swirl distilled spirits—swirling encourages alcohol molecules to vaporize. That can overwhelm your olfactory abilities and destroy your chance of enjoying a spirit’s aroma. Other steps to tasting spirits are:

  • Start with a clean palate. Don’t drink coffee or brush your teeth with minty toothpaste for several hours before a tasting. Don’t eat spicy foods or foods with strong flavors and smells of their own, such as onions or garlic. Rinse your mouth with room temperature water before you sip.
  • Don’t stick your nose into your glass when tasting spirits. Doing so will have the same effect as swirling. Instead, hold the glass beneath your nose and breathe in with both your nose and mouth. Some pros will pass their glass back and forth under their nose or rotate it in circles under their nose.
  • Sample spirits neat, with no water or ice. Once you’ve tasted that way, you can add a little water to another sip to see if it unlocks additional flavors. Chilling spirits reduces your ability to truly taste it, so refrain from adding ice for a tasting.
  • Sip a small amount. Hold it in your mouth for 8 to 10 seconds, to let your mouth get over the “heat” of the alcohol. Breathe in through your nose while you hold the sip in your mouth and take note of the flavors. Try the “Kentucky chew,” where you roll the spirit around in your mouth so that it contacts all the surfaces. Then, when you spit it out (if there is a receptacle provided) or swallow it, you can better appreciate the finish—the flavors that linger on your palate for a while before fading.

Enjoying Spirits

The rules for tasting and enjoying liquor always include behaving responsibly and not acting like a jerk. Pay attention to your surroundings. A formal event may serve champagne or wine and a limited selection of cocktails. Know your drink, and don’t expect a banquet bar stand to be able to mix a complicated cocktail.

At a fully stocked and busy bar, don’t keep a bartender waiting while you mull over what you’d like to drink. Be ready when the bartender gets to you, and don’t tell your barkeep how to do their job. One way to watch your intake is to set a limit on how much you’ll spend. Make a budget for food and drinks, and enforce it by paying in cash. The point is to enjoy socializing, not to make a fool of yourself, or worse.

Start learning about fine spirits by reading about and buying specialty liquor online.